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Wednesday, 1 November, 2000, 14:28 GMT
India's hidden child labourers
Kids making bangles
Bangle making is largely carried out in homes
By Ruth Evans in Ferozabad

With a population of about 1.25 million, Ferozabad - straddling the main Delhi-Calcutta trucking route - is famous for its glass industry, bangles in particular.


In summer, the temperature can reach 50 degrees in here.

Mother of child labourer
They may not cost much to buy but what they cost to make is incalculable.

Although the Indian Constitution prohibits the employment of children under 14, child labour is still rampant in the industry.

Children were formally employed in factories, often in hazardous and risky conditions, until the government enforced child labour legislation in 1995.

Informal sector

Now most children work in the home-based informal sector, in villages surrounding Ferozabad, where factory inspectors cannot enforce legislation.

Kid and baby
A ban on child labour was introduced in 1995
In the village of Bakhal, four children are crouched on the floor, soldering or aligning the glass bangles by heating them over a small flame.

There is no natural light in the room and the heat is unbearable.

"They try not to let air or light come in because it would disturb the flame," their mother tells me.

They each process 15 units of bangles a day, and there are 300 bangles in a unit.

For their efforts, the most they earn is 15 to 20 rupees or about 25p a day.

A child labourer's day
Start work at 0400
Go to school at 0800
Start work again at 1600
Finish work at 2100
The youngest child is eight years old.

Nearby, in another house, a group of children are painting a mixture of turpentine and kerosene lacquer on the bits of the bangles that don't need to be coloured.

Then the bangles are dipped in acid.

It is a simple operation, but the chemicals give off strong fumes.

'No choice'

Bina, the children's mother, hates the fact her children have to work but says the family has no choice as her husband has no work and drinks a lot.

Although her youngest daughter is only just three and can barely talk yet, she's already working on the bangles.

Kids at school
Non-governmental groups are trying to introduce schooling
An official survey conducted in 1998/99 estimated that 10-12,000 children work in different operations in Ferozabad's glass industry, but the true figure could be double that.

Clearly, attempts to put an end to child labour in the formal sector have merely pushed it into the informal sector, where it is very difficult to deal with.

The problem is that poor families need the children's income in order to survive and if the children don't work, the children themselves can be much worse off than if they do.

It's a vicious circle that's difficult to break but now a local non-governmental organisation, Create, along with Save the Children UK are trying to do just that through a number of initiatives.

One of these is to form village co-operatives to produce the bangles, cutting out the middlemen or contractors so that more money goes directly to the adult workers, to compensate for the loss of income if the children no longer work.

Education

Perhaps the most effective initiative, though, has been to introduce a system of non-formal education in villages where none existed before.

If children are attending school, they are no longer able or available to work such long hours, and education raises awareness about the problems and ultimately offers possibilities of alternative employment.

"Our lives were spoilt," says one woman, "but at least our children's lives won't be and they will go to school."

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See also:

14 Jan 99 | South Asia
UN to tackle child labour in India
13 Dec 99 | Europe
Child poverty worsens - Unicef
10 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
Youth parliament targets child labour
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